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Terracotta 'Tanagra' figure of an old nurse

 

Height: 13.500 cm

GR 1911.4-16.1

Room 22: Alexander the Great

    Terracotta 'Tanagra' figure of an old nurse

    Greek, about 300 BC
    Said to be from Tanagra, possibly from Athens, Greece

    Perhaps a comic actor

    This stooped old woman with hunched shoulders holds a large, naked baby firmly in her arms. She wears a voluminous, sleeved chiton (tunic) and most of her hair is contained in a sakkos (a bag-like headdress). Her face, with its raised eyebrows, sagging, wrinkled cheeks and chin, and frame of snail-shell curls is distinctly theatrical. The 'Old Nurse' was a popular character in Greek comic drama from the late fifth century BC onwards. While earlier terracotta actor figures are clearly characterised by their padded costumes or obvious masks, it can be difficult to decide whether later examples like this represent an actor or the real-life character on which the comic type was based.

    It is uncertain where this figure was made, as similar old nurse figures have been found at both Athens and Tanagra. However, the high quality of the modelling and the appearance of the clay suggest that this example may be Athenian.

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    On display: Room 22: Alexander the Great

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    Greek designs, £9.99

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